FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Already one of the most gifted young hitters in the game, what separates Rafael Devers from greatness is consistency.
This is particularly true on defense, where the third baseman led the Major Leagues with 14 errors in only 128 total chances last season for a fielding percentage of .891.
Now 24 and entering his fourth full season, the left-handed hitting Devers knows that he needs to clean up some areas of his game. And he vows that he will.
While it’s hard to have many qualms with Devers' power bat, he can run a little hot and cold. The cold almost always comes early in the season.
The other area Devers is working to be more consistent at is conditioning. After Spring Training was suspended last year due to the pandemic, Devers was not in optimum shape when he reported to Summer Camp last July.
That could have led to Devers' slow start on offense and his season-long slump on defense.
“Yeah, like I don’t want to use it as an excuse,” Devers said. “Everyone had to deal with the same thing, but obviously, with the pandemic and with the protocols that were in place, especially once Spring Training ended up stopping and I went back to the [Dominican Republic], not to say that I wasn’t working out, I was working out.
“But it’s not the same as having the structure [in place] and being able to be here to work out and get back into shape. It’s something that, like I said, I’m not going to use it as an excuse. I’ve just got to improve from there, and that’s what my plan is this upcoming season.”
If Devers starts to fire on all cylinders, he could turn into an All-Star.
“Obviously, what I’m going to be able to do is keep working hard, and obviously, the errors are an issue, and that’s something I’m always working on and trying to avoid as much as I can going into this season,” Devers said. “I’ve been working hard. In the offseason, I spent a lot training and something I really wanted to improve is my defense. But it’s a long season, and I know I’ll be able to put up the numbers that I’m used to because I put in the work this past offseason.”
Devers looks notably trimmer than he did last summer. It was not by accident. He took a similar approach prior to the monster season he had in 2019.
“Yeah, I’ve just been working hard," Devers said. "Like I said, during this past offseason, I just really focused and was determined to get myself in better shape for the long season and just preparing, and hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute to the team winning some ballgames and just put up the numbers and stay as healthy as I can."
Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been a fan of Devers since the 2017 American League Division Series. At that point, Cora was the bench coach for the Astros and Devers -- who was 20 at the time -- looked like the most confident player Boston had. In the ninth inning of Game 4, with the Red Sox clinging to their last hope, Devers smashed an inside-the-park homer off the center-field wall that sent a jolt of energy throughout Fenway Park.
Though the Astros won the game, and the series, Cora still flashes back to that moment, as well as others that Devers had in that series.
“He was the most relaxed player on the Red Sox team in ‘17, against the Houston Astros. He was smiling and enjoying the moment,” Cora said. “He caught my attention. When I start working with him, he’s a joy to be around. He enjoys the game. He’s great. He has a lot of passion.”
That’s why Cora doesn’t put a lot of stock in the down year Devers had in 2020.
“He will be OK. He’s a guy who, obviously, throughout his career, he’s a slow starter,” Cora said. “He’s in better shape this year than last year when he went to Summer Camp. I think he understands his swing a little better. Hopefully, he gets off to a good start, but I think at the end, the numbers will be there. He’s that type of hitter. There are those guys that start fast and they finish slow. With Raffy, it’s the other way around. We’ll see if he can put a whole season together. It will be fun.”
The Red Sox have Devers under team control for three more seasons. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could sign an extension that will keep him in Boston for much longer.
“Right now, I’m just focused on getting ready for the season,” Devers said. “Obviously, my reps will handle that, and when the time is right, we’ll discuss it further. But right now, I’m just focused on what I’m doing.”
Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who is two years younger than Devers, recently signed a 14-year extension. Though Devers isn’t the type of all-around player who is likely to warrant that kind of contract, he is part of a group of exciting young players around the game.
“Obviously, I know where I stack up,” Devers said. “I feel like I have the talent to be among that group of young players. I’m actually very happy for Tatis to be able to get that type of contract, but there’s a lot of Latin guys, lot of American guys, that are young and having success in this game, and I feel like I’m right there with them as well, because I’ve had good numbers and I just have to continue to produce and do what I can do and just control what I can control.”